Vowel context, place difference, and the perceptual distinctiveness of sibilants

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Vowel contexts are shown to influence the perceived distinction of sibilants at different places, e.g., with alveolar vs. palatal sibilants perceptually less distinct in the [_i] context than in the [_a] context. This study investigates if this pattern holds across different sibilant place contrasts, e.g., an alveolar-palatal contrast vs. an alveolar-retroflex contrast. Twenty-four listeners completed a speeded-AX discrimination task in which the stimuli were the sound pairs [si-ɕi] [sa-ɕa] [si-ʂi] [sa-ʂa], which aimed to access the relative psychoacoustic distinction of these pairs. The [si-ɕi] pair turned out to introduce a lower accuracy and a longer response time than the other pairs, with no response time difference among the other three. Assuming a longer response time to indicate less perceptual distinctiveness, the results confirm the observation in the literature that a [si-ɕi] pair is perceptually less distinct than a [sa-ɕa] pair; the lack of difference in [si-ʂi] vs. [sa-ʂa] suggests that the [_i] context does not reduce the perceived sibilant place distinction across all places. There seems to be a trading relation between the effect of vowel context (e.g., a reduced distinction in the [_i] context) and the relative acoustic difference between sibilants when evaluating the distinctiveness of a CV pair.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)96-105
Number of pages10
JournalChinese Journal of Phonetics
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


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